F & F MENDELSSOHN A Midsummer Night’s Dream (excs)
‘Humans like this music. It entertains them’, Iván Fischer writes, with quizzical humour, in a booklet note for his recording of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. ‘However,’ he adds, ‘we made this recording for fairies. They listen differently.’ The work is, of course, by no means entirely about fairy music, extraordinary though it is, and one of the delights of this performance is that it manages to blend the magical with the human in equal measure. Whether we find ourselves ‘listening differently’ or otherwise, there’s a freshness and energy in both conducting and playing that for the most part genuinely enchants.
Fischer’s ear for detail is, as one might expect, marvellously acute. The orchestral sound is ravishing, with plenty of delicacy and refinement in the gossamer textures of the Overture, and a burnished warmth in the Nocturne, where the Budapest horns sound particularly beautiful. But we’re also aware of a fiercely dramatic sensibility at work throughout. A flash of menace intrudes on the quicksilver precision of the Scherzo, and there’s real turbulence in the Intermezzo for the bewildered mortals trapped in Oberon’s wood. The melodramas are omitted, meanwhile, and the vocal numbers performed in German rather than English. The singing is good rather than great; and in a recording that is otherwise well nigh perfectly engineered, the balance comes slightly adrift in ‘Bunte Schlangen, zweigezüngt’ (‘You spotted snakes with double tongue’), where the soloists, Anna Lucia Richter (clean and clear) and Barbara Kozelj (a bit plummy), are placed fractionally too far forwards and the choir too far back.
Richter is again the soloist in the group of songs by Fanny Mendelssohn that form the filler. The simple yet effective orchestrations are by Sándor Balogh, one of the orchestra’s trombonists, as well as a composer in his own right: his name has seemingly been omitted in error from the booklet accompanying the disc’s initial pressing but has, I gather, been restored for later issues. He turns ‘Die Mainacht’ into a slow waltz with an attractive oboe obbligato, while rippling flute arpeggios propel the lovers of ‘Gondellied’ across the Venetian lagoon. Richter could perhaps do a bit more with the words but sings with a pure, crystalline tone and a fine sense of line.